By Josette Keelor
At a ribbon cutting ceremony Friday, representatives from Cedar Creek and Belle Grove National Historical Park and various federal departments gathered to dedicate a new visitor contact station in Middletown.
The station mainly will serve the Middletown historical park but also will offer outreach to other valley battlefields, said park ranger Eric Campbell.
The event, which culminated in a speech by keynote speaker Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-10,) announced the visitor contact station's official opening, following last month's soft opening.
In her opening remarks, park site manager Amy Bracewell called the visitor contact station the result of a communitywide effort.
"This facility and the exhibits inside have been a long way in the making," she said.
Elizabeth McClung, president of Belle Grove Inc. since 1996, said the completion of the contact station was possible because "we're all vigorously determined to preserve places that matter. ... From backcountry to breadbasket to battlefield and beyond."
The new station is about preserving history, land and memories connected to the valley, said Patrick Farris, chairman of the Federal Advisory Commission.
Jim Northup, superintendent of the Federal Advisory Commission, spoke on the contact station being a "very significant step for this young but emerging park."
"[It's] another opportunity to experience your America," he said.
Wolf spoke with particular passion on the importance of preserving history, after thanking the many people whose help went into building the visitor contact station.
A longtime fan of history, he remembered how he used to run his hands along the Liberty Bell outside Independence Hall in Philadelphia when he lived and worked there, and how, when visiting Mount Vernon, he considered the chances that President Washington could have touched the very same spot that Wolf did some 200 years later.
Belle Grove's own history made its mark on Wolf, who recalled Friday that President Madison honeymooned there with wife Dolly.
"This is really to preserve and protect our history," Wolf said. "This is hallowed ground."
With Belle Grove and Cedar Creek's Civil War sesquicentennial approaching next year, Bracewell said the station's completion is good timing.
"We are entering some exciting times at this park," she said.
The station's exhibits were modeled in part on those of other visitor's centers like the ones at Gettysburg Battlefield and Monocacy National Battlefield near Frederick, Md., said Campbell, who joined in the ribbon cutting at the ceremony's end.
The "Faces of the Valley" exhibit he helped organize, and a fiber-optic map of the valley on Gettysburg's exhibit put the whole battle in front of visitors, he said.
Other exhibits, like those explaining the dress and weaponry of Union and Confederate soldiers include a Model 1853 Enfield rifle-musket, which fired a .577 caliber bullet to an effective range of 500 yards. It adds something tactile to the exhibit, Campbell said.
Road core samples of Valley Pike and wheat, in an exhibit called "The Age of Grain," also add physical depth, he said.
Volunteer Barbara Magill said the station started accepting visitors last month, "and it's actually been steady."
"They tend to be hardcore Civil War buffs," she said. One she remembered from England was visiting the valley for a few days before heading to Gettysburg. He learned about the visitor contact station after stopping at Cedar Creek. Now the reverse will start happening, she said.
"It's a lot of fun for history buffs, which we all are."
For more information about the Visitor Contact Station, at 7710 Main St., Middletown, call 540-869-3051 or visit www.nps.gov/cebe/contacts.htm.
Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or firstname.lastname@example.org